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Jacksonville Progressive Coalition Organizes ‘Activist Boot Camp,’ shares strategies

By Kevin Bevel |
June 16, 2015
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Members of the Jacksonville Progressive Coalition gather outside after the boot camp for a group photo.

Jacksonville, FL - On June 13, over 30 activists assembled at the International Association of Machinists hall to discuss methods, share strategies and to discuss points of political unity within the Jacksonville Progressive Coalition (JPC).

The seven-hour event was organized by the JPC after a month and a half of preparation, and welcomed organizers and activists from local groups such as Eyes Open Jax, Occupy Jacksonville, Veterans for Peace, Jacksonville Coalition For Equality and others.

According to Dave Schneider, a member of the JPC and Teamsters Local 512, the purpose of the event was “to develop a more efficient organizational structure to strike blows against our enemy.” Schneider has many years of experience in organizing and, along with his peers, shared insights into the “dedicated planning and discipline” and “nuts and bolts skills” of organizing protests and campaigns. “If you stand on the side of the oppressed, you are a dedicated freedom fighter,” said Schneider.

Among the issues discussed were “Organizing with the Campaign Model,” “Research and Development in Activism,” “Actions, Media and Social Media” and “How to Effectively Run a Meeting.” During these panels, the importance of diligence and maintaining focus on a message and purpose were stressed. “Talk to the people, find out the issues affecting them,” Schneider said, citing recent actions in Eureka Gardens, a Section 8 housing community in Jacksonville where the tenants, many of them elderly, live in substandard conditions. In formulating a campaign, social investigation, as well as conducting education and agitation among the people is vital, and this cannot be achieved only using social media. Campaigns must escalate and introduce new tactics in order to be successful.

“Your events have got to get bigger and more intense; elected officials acknowledge numbers,” stated Schneider.

“It gets under their [elected officials] skin when you’re well educated,” said Eleanor Wilson, a JPC and Occupy Jacksonville member. She also noted that the “city council will lie to your face.” She discussed the importance of fact-checking and researching with reliable sources when confronting those in power, as well as educating those present on using search engines more effectively to find information and issues buried within government documents.

The media is an important part of campaigns and building support and interest in a cause, and a workshop also focused on “leveraging media coverage to your advantage and using social media to advance the struggle,” according to Tefa Galvis, an organizer with the JPC.

Preparing press releases and conducting press conferences were discussed in detail, with emphasis placed on brevity, clarity and staying on message. JPC member Wells Todd, who has interacted with the press through television, radio and print, advised: “This is an opportunity to recruit and inform people that someone’s on their side. We’re dealing with economic exploitation, racism, sexism, homophobia…always bring it back to what you want to say. Don’t let them put words in your mouth.”

Following a lunch break, there was a series of short panels discussing “points of political unity”: racism, empowering the working class, ending U.S. wars and occupation, women’s liberation, LGBTQ rights, resisting political repression and opposing environmental destruction. These panels were a combination of articulating a platform and providing additional information to those who may not be fully educated on the complexity of these issues or how they intersect. One of the threads connecting all of these points was the role that the state and its institutions has in oppressing on the basis of race, class, sex and sexual orientation. “Institutions control your lives,” Wells Todd said in an impassioned speech detailing institutionalized racism, “these are concepts embedded into social systems and institutions.” “It’s killing us and we have to rip it out of our society,” he added. Todd could have just as easily been referring to the oppression of women, the exploitation of workers, or the destruction of the environment through shortsighted corporate greed.

The Boot Camp was filled with ideas and information meant to raise consciousness and expand knowledge.

The Jacksonville Progressive Coalition is “a coalition of groups that come together to fight against issues of oppression and fight for social and economic justice” and, if this event is any indication, its reach will extend even further in the coming months.